Why Organizations Don’t Learn? #Sketchnote

Organizations that don’t learn constantly, adapt continuously and execute relentlessly are more likely to be disrupted by constant change and competition.

Peter Senge, in his book defined a learning organization as:

“where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”

We have to go beyond formal learning methods if we have to truly build learning organizations in a rapidly changing world. A learning organization is not possible without learning individuals and individuals learn the most with each other in a network and  and through their work in an culture that promotes informal learning.

I emphasized culture because it can be one of the biggest bottlenecks in how organizations learn and apply what they learn to create meaningful results. It doesn’t matter how much you invest in formal learning, tools and methods, if you do not have a culture where people are encouraged to share without any fear, learning may not come to the fore.

Why do companies struggle to become and remain learning organizations? In November 2015 issue of HBR, I came across an article by Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats titled “Why Organizations Don’t Learn” where they outline the cultural and individual biases that don’t allow organizations to learn. They also provide useful tips to overcome those biases.

Here is a sketch note I created to distill key biases that prevent organizations from learning. To know what you can do to overcome these biases, I recommend you read the full article at HBR. 

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Critical Thinking and Talent Development: A New Blog

Traditionally, career success was linked with 3 R’s (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) but in American Management Association’s critical skills survey 2012, respondents emphasized on 4 C’s (Critical thinking and problem solving, Effective Communication, Collaboration and team building and Creativity and innovation) as their key priorities for employee development, talent development and succession planning.

Organization suffers when leaders take decisions purely based on their emotion, assumption, perception or a bias without questioning them. It can sometimes prove fatal. One of the most important agenda for HR Professionals today is to assess and develop critical thinking skills of their people.

Pearson TalentLens India has launched a brand new blog that delves deeper into critical thinking and talent development. I am so happy to be a contributing author to this initiative where I share insights at the crossroads of critical thinking and talent. In their own words,

Effective leaders have never been in greater demand and critical thinking skills never so sought after. The Critical Thinking India blog is an online meeting place, to help you stay on top of sophisticated decision making and problem solving as a professional and gain the critical thinking edge in the 21st century workplace.

Here are a few snippets from posts I have contributed so far.

With people being at the core of an organization’s greatness, it is extremely important for HR professionals to pay attention to two things – that existing people are trained to think critically and people are hired based on their ability to think critically.

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An organization thrives on people and decisions they make. An organization grows (or doesn’t) one decision at a time. These decisions, ranging from strategic ones to tactical, are taken by people at all levels in the organization. The foundation of a right decision is based on one of the most important skill of 21st century – critical thinking.

Please take a look and read the posts I have contributed. You can also follow conversations related to critical thinking on Twitter at @ThinKritical

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Leadership and Building Emotional Infrastructure

Last two posts (here and here) focused on managing the emotional aspects of workplace to build a culture of engagement. While I was writing about it, I came across a very interesting paper titled “The Emotionally Bonded Organization: Why Emotional Infrastructure Matters And How Leaders Can Build It” by Vijay Govindarajan, Professor of International Business at The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and Subroto Bagchi, co-founder of MindTree.

The paper emphasizes that role of a leader within an organization is to primarily create infrastructure. Organizations are composed of three types of infrastructure:

  1. Physical Infrastructure (buildings, furniture, equipments, offices across global locations etc.)
  2. Intellectual Infrastructure (systems, processes, technical capabilities, unique tools, patents, copyrights etc.)
  3. Emotional Infrastructure (aggregated positive feelings employees have for the organization and each other)

According to the authors, emotional infrastructure is most time consuming and difficult to build. They state:

In comparison to physical and intellectual infrastructure, emotional infrastructure is the most time-intensive and the most difficult to build. Yet the factors that create emotional infrastructure are not visibly manifest to an outsider and hence it is the most difficult for a competitor to copy, yielding a sizable and sustainable competitive advantage. This is precisely why numerous people visit Toyota in Japan but very few are able to replicate Toyota’s legendary manufacturing practices.

Further, this paper outlines 8 factors that build an emotional infrastructure.

Bottom line: Employee engagement and emotional infrastructure within an organization are a result of conscious choices at the top. Leaders who are aware of the emotional aspect of culture building will be able to build highly engaged and connected teams – a direct competitive advantage in a knowledge oriented world.

More Insights from Subroto Bagchi

9 Simple Ideas for Employee Engagement

My last post emphasized on balancing processes and practices with emotion when leading projects. HR folks know this as “employee engagement”. In simplest terms, people have a choice to do a great job or a mediocre one. They exercise this choice based on the emotional connection with purpose of project/team/organization.

Why all this buzz around employee engagement, you may ask? Consider this: A Gallup study estimated that lower productivity due to disengaged workers costs the U.S. economy about $328 million. It is more than a pronounced fact now that level of employee engagement has a net direct impact on a company’s business bottom lines. On the brighter side, engaged team members delivered 12% higher customer satisfaction scores, 18% higher productivity and about 12% higher profitability. A 2010 study by AON Hewitt also confirms this.

Actively engaged team members are the greatest source of creativity, innovation, quality and improvements within an organization. In a knowledge world, only engaged team members go out of their way to delivery great customer experiences. If you are a leader at any level within the organization, your primary job is to build a culture of consistently high engagement. How do you achieve that?

Clarify the purpose continuously: People need to know the grand purpose to which they are subscribing. Constant reinforcement of purpose and matching that with team member’s individual aspirations is a great way to keep them engaged.

Show how they contribute: Most people working on various initiatives/projects want to know how their work contributes in achieving the purpose. Show them the results, give them a broader perspective, share feedback and let them understand how customer perceives value. Once this important link is established, people are more equipped to deliver better outcomes.

Be a “potential mirror”: I am not sure if there is such a word like “potential mirror”. But whenever you share feedback and communicate, nurture their self-esteem. Criticize constructively and show them their potential. Help them identify their unique strengths and how to put them to use.

Set Them Free: Align values, give them a purpose and then set them free. Autonomy is a great driver of employee engagement. Team members need a space where they can exercise their ideas and be creative. Let them make mistakes, but handhold them so they learn. Setting them free is also a great indicator that you trust them.

Involve Them in Leading Change: People often get into comfort of their work with time. Involving them in meaningful change/improvement initiatives is a great way to keep them alternately engaged. Sometimes, when people get bored with routine, such change initiatives can be reinvigorating.

Foster Communication: Build an eco-system where communication is free. Management methods like SCRUM do this nicely where team members do a daily stand-up meeting. It keeps them aligned and accountable. These daily forums are also a great way to share progress and feedback.

Use External and Internal Feedback: Allow people to share their feedback. Listen intentionally. People want to be heard and understood. Let customers speak about their perception of team and what can be improved. Internal and external feedback can often show you the right path.

Act on it: Show that you care by acting on the feedback. Better yet, involve people in implementing those actions. Taking feedback and not acting on it is a costly mistake that can quickly disengage people.

Celebrate: Team works hard and engaged people always end up walking extra-mile to get things done. Do not forget to celebrate the team, their achievements and their hard work. A team that works together and celebrates together, performs together.

Bonus Resources:

  1. Employee Engagement for Managers: In One Sentence” (free eBook) by David Zinger – a thought leader and authority on the subject of employee engagement.

  2. UpstartHR’s Guide to Employee Engagement (where I contributed a chapter.

9 (More) Ideas for Effective Trainings

Trainings are at the core of most knowledge-oriented organizations and often considered to be key driver of employee behaviors, and hence culture. It is a lot of hard work, a lot of time, effort and energy spent. It better be effective. Here are 9 (more) ideas to ensure that trainings are effective (related ideas in links below):

  1. Training is not a silver bullet. Sometimes, business leaders over emphasize on trainings when other things are not working. One example: Providing a detailed training on roles and responsibilities to a team member may not work when the problem is how people are being managed.
  2. Often, we end up imparting detailed trainings on processes that are faulty. Even if people religiously follow the process, it may not yield desired business results. Before imparting training, ensure that your processes/content is accurate enough to yield desired business outcomes.
  3. Given our shrinking attention spans, long, detailed and tedious trainings will never help people. Good trainings that are poorly designed will also take a toll. Trainings are change agents and for that to happen, map training to real time actions. Show them how to do something, stir their imagination, raise important questions and then provide answers. Better yet, let them participate in finding answers and then reinforce lessons.
  4. Timing of the training is crucial. If you impart training on something which people may not use for next two months, the lessons will soon fade away. Impart training when it is most needed and can be used readily.
  5. Trainings that are done just because some external standard (like ISO) demands is a huge waste. Standards never tell us to conduct trainings at the cost of effectiveness.
  6. We don’t need trainers who speak like robots. We need humans, who bring their emotion to the training, share their personal stories, provide us perspectives and drive our imagination. If training is repetitive by nature, create a recorded version instead.
  7. The #1 job of a trainer is to focus on them – the participants. It’s not an opportunity to show how much you know about the subject, but how they can use that in their unique context.
  8. Manage the energy in room. People think training is about “flow” – continuity of ideas and speech. Yes, it is. In fact, it is also about "engaging change”. If a trainer speaks continuously for more than 5-7 minutes, the energy in the room loses to monotony. To add an element of change, throw up a question, show a video, share a story, ask audience to share their story, outline their challenges or let them do something. It re-aligns the energy in room.
  9. While you may not have a best sense of humor, it helps to lighten up things a bit during the training. Formal trainings have a bad reputation of being serious, and hence boring. If you (as a trainer) are not having fun, you cannot expect the audience to have it either!

Other Training Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

5 Ideas To Ensure That Trainings Effectively Deliver Value

Training: The Change Agent

Training Middle Managers On People Management Basics

Training and Development – A Holistic View

On Personal Mastery and Commitment to Learning

In corporate setting, a lot of people depend a great deal on their employers for their own growth. When it comes to consolidating the skill-set or acquiring a new skill in their area of work, they wait for someone to come and train (read ‘spoonfeed’) them.

During a recent interview I conducted, I asked the candidate about specific/basic skills to which the candidate responded, “I never got a chance/opportunity to work on that in my current job” or “I was never given training on that”.  Such statements tell a lot about a person’s commitment to their work.

Here are a few important reminders:

  • The pursuit of personal mastery is a personal one. It is nice that your employer supports and pays for some of those trainings. But ultimately, it is your responsibility to put those lessons into practice. Your growth is about you, and it is personal.
  • It starts with commitment. Unless you are committed to learn, no learning can happen. Training doesn’t guarantee learning unless you are committed. Commitment also means that you have a deep sense of responsibility for your work and knowing that constant learning will help you do it better.
  • Initiative is important. Once the training is done, how much do you experiment with the subject? To put lessons into practice, ability to move beyond the fear and initiate is vital. You don’t need anyone’s permission to grow.
  • So is choice. As a mature professional, what career path you select, what will you study/learn, who will you learn from, where will you learn from are all important choices. Leaving these choices to someone else may be a risky affair in the long term. No one knows you as well as you do.
  • Resources are abundant. Fortunately, we are living in a world where a lot of high quality learning material can be accessed for free. Online conferences, blogs, free events, high quality technical resources, eBooks are all free. So, access to quality material is no longer a competitive advantage. What you do with them is.
  • It is worth the investment. Instead of waiting for anybody else to pay for your training, pay it yourself. It is a worthy investment, not only because you increase your value as a professional, but it also helps in building a high self esteem. Constant learning helps you remain focused, positive, optimistic and hence, happy.

W. Edwards Deming nailed it when he said:  “Learning is not compulsory – neither is survival.”

So, here are a few critical questions that we can (and should) ask ourselves periodically:

– What did I learn in past week/month/quarter/year?
– How did I evolve as a professional?
– Has my learning helped me in expanding my own capacity to contribute?

Join in the conversation: Have you encountered people who rely on their employers for their growth? What have you learned from people around you who take complete responsibility of their professional growth?

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